In a recently published study, scientists found that soils depleted by overgrazing triggered an unusual surge in locust populations in China. Paradoxically, the scientists found, lower nitrogen levels had actually helped the locusts thrive.
This week, the National Science Foundation awarded $955,000 to six researchers
— including Eli Fenichel
of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies — to study whether this phenomenon is also affecting locust species in Australia and Senegal, and how it might ultimately affect food security in locations worldwide.
When locusts reach high population densities, they transform into a more gregarious phenotype, developing characteristics that make them capable of migrating as far as 400 kilometers in a single day
, according to Arianne Cease, a physiological ecologist at Arizona State University and the University of Sydney and one of the scientists involved in this research.
Locust outbreaks can devastate agricultural yields and food security. In Madagascar this year, locust swarms have infested more than half of all cultivated land and pasture, destroying more than a quarter of the nation’s food crops